Some say U board lacks diversity

Anna Weggel

With four white men elected to the Board of Regents last week, questions have arisen about the representation of minorities and women at the University.

As the only legislator to openly disagree with the regent selections, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said the two women of the remaining nine candidates should have been elected. Out of the original 58 regent applicants, 12 were women.

“I’m willing to stand up and make a statement about it,” Kahn said. “It’s the first time in 30 years they’ve ever had an all-male slate for the board.”

Kahn said the problem is she knows the men selected are qualified candidates.

“But the women who were turned down are also competent people,” she said.

University President Bob Bruininks said University officials do their best to hire and recruit the most-qualified candidates.

“We put a very, very high value on hiring a diverse workforce at the University of Minnesota,” he said.

Bruininks said that as far as gender issues go, the University has done well to appoint women to important positions. But the University hasn’t always done as well with minorities, he said.

Robert Jones, senior vice president for system administration, who is black, said the University has a number of programs that deal with recruiting minorities and women to faculty positions.

Although 13 percent of the University’s faculty members are minorities, the number is increasing each year, Jones said.

“We have the highest number of faculty of color we’ve had at this institution since we’ve been keeping records,” he said.

But Jones said the number could still afford to get larger.

“It’s still not as high as some of our peer institutions and still not as high as the student-of-color population at this university, so there’s significant room for improvement,” he said.

Jones said the University wants to reflect the diverse perspective of its student population. He said reports have shown it’s important to the well-being and academic progress of underrepresented populations.

“Minority students need to see role models that they can identify on the faculty just like majority students need to see that,” he said.

Jones said having a diverse faculty is a key aspect in becoming a world-class institution.

“You can’t really become a world-class institution unless you pay strict attention to the diversity of your faculty,” he said.

Regent Lakeesha Ransom, who is one of two women and one of two black people on the board, said her colleagues are dedicated to the people of Minnesota and that they strive to make sure all voices are represented.

“I trust that they’re all committed to the representation of the people of Minnesota regardless of any individual gender or cultural background,” she said.

Ransom said the regents are able to think from multiple perspectives.

“I trust that (the Legislature) elected capable people, and I’m committed to working with everyone on the board,” she said.

Nathan Wanderman, a student representative to the board, who is white, said there is a lack of diversity among the student representatives.

There is one female student representative and one minority student out of seven representatives.

Wanderman said part of the problem is that more minority and female students need to apply for the positions.

To encourage them to apply, Wanderman said, people should present the opportunity to multicultural student groups and propose it to women in student government.

“I personally have been talking with a number of people to try to get them to apply and try to diversify our group,” he said.

Wanderman said he’s disappointed the Regent Selection Committee didn’t make a better effort to get more minority representation.

“I don’t think the other regents are oblivious to others’ concerns, but it really carries a lot more clout when they’re being voiced by someone who’s been there and done that,” he said.

Political science and African-American studies junior Cory Croft said he is extremely dissatisfied with the lack of multicultural representation on the board.

“It’s definitely not representative enough of the different minorities and women on campus,” said Croft, who is also a member of the Black Student Union.

Croft said he thinks the new board will largely affect the way things are done at the University.

“Having four (new) Caucasians on the Board of Regents shows a lack of understanding and compassion toward the minority students on campus,” Croft said. “There’s no one there who can relate, no one there who will immediately reach out, in my opinion.”

Regent Peter Bell said he is not concerned about the current makeup of the board in terms of gender or ethnic diversity.

Bell said he doesn’t think a group of people can adopt just one way of thinking.

“To say that women or Hispanics or American Indians are a monolithic group that think the same and approaches all things from the same vantage point is insulting and stereotyping in the most-extreme form,” he said.

But Bell said it is important to make sure groups that have not historically participated in these positions are aware of the available opportunities.

“It’s an honor to be a regent and to serve the community through a leadership position at the University,” he said. “I as a regent and I as an African American do not take that lightly at all.”